24 September 2015

Mums, We Need to Stick Together (in this cold online world)

I've had this post rumbling around in my gut for a while now, but just lacked the hook to hang it all on. I found my starting point last night when I spotted a post from kiwi mum-blogger Emily Writes in my FaceBook feed. Emily has managed to catch the eye of the mainstream media moguls with her self-deprecating, honest and hilarious blog posts about the realities of parenting. This latest story was a doozie, and I found myself chuckling and shaking my head all the way through. The title itself is fab: "I was a great parent - before I had kids". Mmmhmm. Yep. Weren't we all?
Then I hit the comment section and my stomach literally dropped. Poor Emily!
She must have been so excited to get her blog stories up on a mainstream news website (I know I would have been) and then, whammo, the crazies start in on her. The judgey comments, the meanness, as typified by this one:

Geez, Rick, really? I hope you don't fall off that high horse you're ridin' someday. And the fact you are mentioning "homework" lets us know your kids are older; Emily is wrangling a baby and a toddler. You're just suffering from some rose-tinted hindsight and a mad case of Royal Arse disease.

Then (completely missing the point) there was this one...
Um, hey Old Traveller, why dontcha come back to us when you're wranglin some kids of your own. Nuff said.

Which brings me to my point.
Damn its hard being a parent these days!
We are parenting in an internet glasshouse. Every parenting choice we makes goes under the microscope of the World Wide Web. Information comes at us from every angle, we are bombarded with contradictory theories and well-meaning (but unhelpful) advice.
Everybody has an opinion. Everyone feels it's their Steve-Jobs-given right to weigh in on every subject under the sun.

We are drowning in a tide of information

We're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't.
We immunize our kids - oh no there's a study that proves immunization is linked to Autism.
We don't immunize our kids - oh no there's a massive debate raging on the interwebs about the way anti-vaccers are coasting on "the immunity of the herd". Now we're irresponsible citizens.

For every parenting dilemma there is a deluge of expert (and non-expert) opinions.
And not only that. We are also under scrutiny from our fellow mothers all over the world. Those sisters who are in the trenches of motherhood with us (and who should have our back cos they KNOW how hard it is, dammit) are also busy competing and comparing, quick to dig the boot in when we're down and cry "bad mother".

(Disclaimer: I am NOT talking about the beautiful mother-sisters I am blessed with in my personal life, or you, my lovely blog readers; I'm talking about the judgey self-righteous mums who chime in on posts put up by parenting websites asking for advice for a mum with a particular struggle. Ever seen one of those? One is enough. It's just awful.)

walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me

Our parents did not have to contend with this. They parented us as best they could, rightly or wrongly, and nobody told them they were doing it wrong.
I bet my folks didn't feel the need to read books on Parenting or attend seminars. They muddled along, mixing a bit of what they got from their parents with a bit of their own instincts, and somehow we turned out OK. I don't think they ever doubted their parenting methods a day in their lives or wondered if they were doing a good enough job. They lived in the age of "I am Parent, therefore I am Right."

Not us. No. We live in the Internet Era where advice and opinions pour through our daily newsfeed in a rising tide. If we let it, it will confuse and overwhelm us, making us feel like we are failing in so many ways we didn't even know we could fail.

Already too many of us question and doubt ourselves, beat ourselves up because we compare our full-length home movie with the happy snapshots of all our FaceBook friends. We have a sneaking suspicion that everyone else is doing it better than we are and have a sick pit in our gut that whispers "my kids are going to be irreparably damaged by my parenting ineptitude."

Meanwhile ugly debates rage in the comment sections of every parenting article dishing out "helpful" lists of Do's and Don'ts like :
  • "Thirty Things That Will Irreparably Damage Your Daughter's Psyche" 
  • "Fifty Things You Should Never Ever Do as Parent or Your Child will be a Delinquent"
  • "Latest Study: Feeding Your Baby Formula Will Make Them Lose 10 Points on Their IQ" 
  • "Latest study: Breastfeeding for Too Long Breeds Breast-obsessed Mama's Boys"
For every opinion, there's a dissenting voice. For every topic, there's a million voices arguing over who's right and who's wrong.
And in the middle of it all are us mums and dads just trying to raise decent human beings in a world that is changing around us on a weekly basis.

What to do, What to do?

We are sisters, after all, in the trenches of motherhood

Here's what I reckon...

First of all, we mamas need to take control of our newfeeds. Unsubscribe to the pages that issue forth posts full of coulda-shoulda-woulda's. Don't read those things, they are unhelpful, confusing and just plain demoralizing. (If Facebook suggests posts of this type, hit "I don't want to see this"; Facebook is a quick learner. It will stop sending you things like that pretty quick).
The online world is meant to be a tool; It is an excellent servant, but a terrible master. If we let it, the endless barrage of information will overload us with all the ways we're doing it wrong, and all the ways everyone else is doing it better. Keeping up the Jones has never been so intense and all-encompassing, so lets keep it in it's place.

Second of all, we need to determine WHO we will take advice from. I recently read a comment by a sensible person who said they only accept parenting advice from people whose children they like and whose families they admire. Otherwise they nod and smile, thank the person politely and move on. I like that; I'm taking it. We don't have to take on board every piece of advice out there. Choose your parenting "mentors" wisely and refuse to be buffeted by the winds of public opinion.

Thirdly, we have to realise that we are in this together, mums, and we need to be there for each other. Depression and isolation are rampant and untalked about because we are trying so hard to look like we have it all together, we are afraid to reach out and ask for help and let others in. I'm not talking about hanging out our dirty linen on social media, now - I'm talking about real life connecting.
We need to connect with each other. We need to be honest. And if we see someone struggling, we need to reach out and invite that mum for coffee. Coffee with another mum, talking honestly and laughing at ourselves, groaning over the way our 7-year-old still can't hit the pot when he pees, crying together and hugging over our adolescent's struggles with self image... that can make the world of difference in feeling like we're not alone. Real Life Connection. And here comes one of my favourite old adages: If you want a friend, be a friend.

We need to stop living our lives online, comparing our reality with others' edited snapshots and reclaim the real world.
We need to take control of what we read, refrain from joining in poisonous debates
We need to stop beating ourselves up every time a new study confirms some theory on parenting must-do's.
We need to give ourselves a break and remember that we love our kids, and bottom line that's what matters. THAT WE LOVE OUR KIDS.

sometimes we need a hand to hold

We're all in this parenting gig together, my fellow mother-sisters. Our goal is the same: get our kids through to adulthood in one piece, secure, healthy and happy.
How we get there will be different for each one. But THAT'S OK. Different is good.
We all love our kids and are doing the best we can for them and making the best choices we can guided by our lights, as we see them.
We don't need to compete and compare. We don't need to feel threatened as if someone doing it differently that means I'm doing it wrong (or they are). No. Variety is the spice of life.

So take a big deep breath, pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you're doing a great job. Then go find another mum and tell her the same thing, over coffee.

Love you all, my fellow mother-sisters! You're all beautiful and awesome and I'm thankful for each and every one of you.
from Simoney xx

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